Thursday, April 27, 2006

Computer Games as Fandom

One of my odd quirks is that I occasionally randomly write college-paper-like essays on topics that come to my brain... the most recent was the lack of respect that computer games get from the fen communities

Go to any science fiction/fantasy convention and you’ll see people dressed as their favorite characters, from Klingons to Browncoats, from PsiCops to Goa’uld. You’ll see characters from movies, television, comics, books, anime...but rarely will you see a computer game character.

Listen to panels, and its the same story, discussions about the latest film projects, the newest TV shows, so and so’s latest book in such and such universe. Wander down to gaming, and you might hear discussion of the hot MMORPG of the week, but almost never discussion of the story.

So what have computer games taken such a backseat to film, television and books as a medium for creative science fiction and fantasy storytelling? Partially because, up until recently, they haven’t been able to deliver.

One of the early forerunners was the best selling computer game of all time until The Sims came along. With five games, a publisher-thwarted online multiplayer spin off, three books, (with a 4th pending), a Disneyworld attraction that was doomed by lack of appropriate technology, it has a background to stand up to any in book or on screen. A developed language, an established history, a fully realized culture, elements of hard science and fantasy woven into the story, not as throw-away plot devices, and a basic premise that should make any fan drool; that books can transport you to other worlds. And yet, how many of you, until that last sentence, even knew I was talking about Cyan World’s Myst series? A universe that has everything that most fen want in a background, and it’s been overlooked for almost 15 years, except by a dedicated group of fans.

Since the first Myst game arrived, and the technology developed for games has skyrocketed, developers have had to stand up and take notice that they can’t just have mindless pixel shapes running around on a screen. Players want realistic characters, interaction, and history. They want motivation for what’s happening, and why they are doing what they do.

Some of the online multiplayer games are taking a stand in developing cultures for their different races, story backgrounds, and world histories.

City of Heroes (and its partner game, City of Villains), for example, has a complete timeline and history, with story elements that are slowly released as part of gameplay. Guild Wars (Which calls itself a “Competitive Online Role playing Game”) comes with a “Lore Book” that gives, well, lore about the game world, and players are given quests that help further the storyline.

In the world of single player games, story is becoming an important part of even the most dyed in the wool first person shooter. Halo (and Halo 2) follows in the footsteps of the science fiction greats by creating a fine mix of alien and human conflict on a strange world. The good balance of story characters and gameplay make it worth paying attention to as a work of creative fiction, even if the thought of a movie adaptation makes many fen cringe.

In essence, I find very little to separate a well-written, richly historied computer game from the well-written, richly historied mainstays of science fiction and fantasy fandom. I think we do the people who put their creative efforts into these works a disservice by so roundly rejecting them.

How then, do we change this perception of computer games as not worthy of fandom? Perhaps by encouraging more panels on computer game fandom, by offering genre-specific costuming prizes at conventions, by interviewing computer game writers and artists and bringing their talents to the spotlight.

8 comments:

David D. Levine said...

I think one reason you don't see people costuming or doing art about games is that gamers participate creatively in their favorite works by interacting with the game. Whereas readers and TV/movie viewers, if they want to participate creatively, have to sew costumes or paint pictures or write fanfic.

Eleri Hamilton said...

Interesting thought. Although, if you look in the computer game nitches, you'll find costuming and fan fic and art... it's just limited to those nitches. The works that game fans do, are less recognised in the wider SF/F spectrum.

Blade said...

Part of it is the fact that video games are relatively new. And video game players are pretty marginalized even in fen culture. There are a lot of 'video gamers' that don't overlap with fandom - lots of teenagers nowadays, sport game fans, etc. Fact it, the major draw to video games isn't story or setting - it's activity. Story or setting based video gaming is a niche in a niche market.

Kirt Dankmyer, aka Loki said...

Um, nearly every anime con I go to I see tons of people doing cosplay as video game characters. I think you need to check your data.

rgmb said...

Talent, timing, mass appeal, formulaic scripting, incredible PR machine (fanbase or professional==who would accomplish your final paragraph of suggestions) and pure old fashioned luck in my opinion are what makes something fall into "fandom".

So the question for me is, do you envision the ultimate accomplishment of the Myst Series to be developed into screen productions and amusement parks, or do you see those same movies and parks driving a deeper understanding and following of the games and books? What to you will make them achieve your sought after "fandom" for them?

In any regard, take heart, something tells me that Cyan will become all and more that you hope it to become. How does it go?---"The end has not been written."

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